Pius Maundu | Nation Media Group
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Machakos woman ‘married’ to another battles for ‘husband’s wealth

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Josephine Ndulu speaks to the Nation outside Machakos Law Courts on May 29, 2024. She opened up on their troubled customary union. 

A Machakos woman married to another one in accordance with a little-known Kamba custom has opened up on a rocky relationship that has kept the two women in the corridors of justice for years.

Josephine Ndulu claims she is married to Angela Nyamai Munyao.

Josephine has, however, taken her ‘husband’ to court accusing her of unilaterally selling portions of the family land and disinheriting her of her land at Kasolongo village in Machakos County.

“My life has been turned upside down after I fell out with my husband,” she says in court documents.

'I live in fear'

“I operate from my neighbor’s place because I have no place to call home. I have no shelter for my children. A newcomer has kicked me out of my land. I live in fear.”

She accuses Angela alongside her (Angela’s) daughter Josephine Nthikwa Murimi, as well as Everlyne Kavete Kyule, Munini Munyao Kilonzo, Titus Muenge Kavoi and Pius Kavita Kasyoki, who own pieces of the nine-acre matrimonial land in question.

It is not disputed that Angela has over the years subdivided the family land amongst herself, Nthikwa, and Munini, who is identified as her (Angela’s) wife, in accordance to the Kamba customary law.

Others who got slices of the parcel are Everlyne, their neighbour, Kavita, and Titus, a land surveyor who had allegedly earned a plot after offering his professional services in some of the land transactions.

Hospital bills

The court heard that the unabated sale of parcels of the family’s land rendered Josephine homeless after Angela kicked her out of the property.

While Eeverlyne maintains that she acquired the land legally after helping Angela settle hospital bills, Josephine strongly feels she was entitled to that particular parcel of land identified as Masii/Kithangaini/981.

When things came to a head, Josephine rushed to court in 2019 seeking the nullification of the transactions which had given away the family land, identified as Masii/Kithangaini/925, and its fresh subdivision into three equal parts to go to Engela, herself and Munini, who is her co-wife.

The case has shed light on the little-known cultural practice among the Kamba community in which a woman who is unable to bear sons for some reason enters into an arrangement with another woman who is expected to bear sons on her behalf to keep the family name alive.

Iweto unions

The woman who is expected to bear children to keep the husband's family name alive is locally known as ìweto.

The Machakos court heard that the husband in the iweto arrangement oftentimes dictates on the man to cohabit with the wife.  

A mother of five, Josephine says her marriage to Angela was rosy until 2015 when she learned that the ‘husband’ had teamed up with her daughter to sell parcels of the family land behind her back.

Angela and Nthikwa accused Josephine of being arrogant and neglecting Angela who had fallen ill.

The Environment and Land Court sitting in Machakos heard that Nthikwa attempted to kick Josephine out of the homestead when she sought to establish why she was not consulted and involved in the land transactions.

Divorce suit

At this point, in 2016, Angela rushed to a Machakos court seeking to have her union to Josephine dissolved.

The court, however, directed the couple to dissolve the marriage in line with the Kamba customary law.

Josephine is betting big on the attempted divorce to build a strong case.

“In view of the foregoing, the plaintiff has proven to this court on a balance of probabilities that she was indeed married to the first defendant as an iweto under Kamba customary law,” Josephine’s lawyer Emmanuellah Nafula told the court.

“Yet Ms Nyamai (Angela) has denied marrying Ms Ndulu (Josephine) and dismissed her claims on the family property. In final submissions filed through Nairobi lawyer Kivuitu Maundu, Ms Nyamai says Ms Ndulu is nothing more than her niece who had come to the homestead as a domestic servant in 2005”.

Jurisdiction question

Maundu, the lawyer, further says the Environment and Land Court has no jurisdiction to establish and/or confirm in fact marriage did exist between Ms Ndulu and Ms Nyamai.

“If indeed she was a wife, then her claim for a share [of the family land] ought to have been filed at the High Court as a matrimonial cause. Ms Nyamai said she had received the land in question from her husband— the late Joseph Munyao Kilonzo— as a gift in 1994, long before he died.  

“At the time the plaintiff came to the matrimonial home, the first defendant (Ms Nyamai) had already had the suit land in her name since the year 1994 and at no given time did the plaintiff contribute in acquiring any land,” Mr Maundu said in the final submissions filed in the online court system on May 29.

“Hence, the first defendant had the right under the law to do as she so wished and of which she chooses [sic] to sub-divide and thereafter. The plaintiff cannot claim any interest on the defendants’ plots which they all lawfully acquired and thus have absolute rights and interests over.”

The Environment and Land Court will rule on the matter on June 21, Machakos Principal Magistrate Hellen Mbati said.